To be fair, this little origami-inspired bot is quite the friendly-looking fellow. Pumping a little bit of electricity through a flexible circuit that’s sandwiched between two layers of paper and a shape-memory polymer causes it to fold into its working form. Because there’s a microprocessor on board, the robot can actually control the order in which pieces fold or unfold, and that helps it lift itself gracefully into position. Once the four legs have finished folding, two small motors (one for each pair of legs) kick in, and the bot scurries away.
It’s similar to another self-assembling robot that was shown off by another team from MIT recently. Theirs, however, was activated by heat. Instead of simply pressing a button and sending power into the system, it needed to be placed into an oven and lightly baked or laid on a hotplate like the contraband one you had in your college dorm room.
The researchers envision this technology being used to create robots designed for use in harsh environments like space, on the battlefield, or, theoretically, battlefields in outer space. No, not really, but one day when robots run amok like Doris in Meet the Robinsons it’s these little self-assmebling things that are going to cause us the most grief.